This blog post is the first in a series examining district-level accountability and teacher effectiveness related to virtual learning in Michigan. Each post in the series is accompanied by a podcast with our participants, which you can find at the end of the posts.
Rebecca Jackson runs the online learning program at Grand Ledge High School in Grand Ledge, Michigan. The program is relatively young, having been in existence for only about two years, but it is growing at an impressive pace as evidenced by having served 160 students on-site in the 2016-17 school year. The program provides a dedicated virtual learning lab space with 32 desktop computers. The lab is open for a morning session before the school day begins, five periods during the school day, and “open lab” time in the afternoon. Grand Ledge contracts with both Edgenuity and Michigan Virtual to provide content and instruction for their online courses. At any given time in the lab, students are working in the same space on courses of varying content and grade levels, ranging from credit recovery to AP courses.
When it comes to accountability, Grand Ledge currently has a number of different measures in place. To hold online students accountable, program mentors schedule weekly communications around student project expectations and revisions. These communications also clearly outline expectations for feedback on assignments and effective time management and pacing for each course. Rebecca notes that she is very pleased with these accountability practices but is frankly unclear about what kinds of professional training online instructors from third-party providers might receive or how they are evaluated. She recommends a more consistent, possibly state-wide policy ensuring that online instructors are properly trained to teach online and held to the same standards. Additionally, she believes online teachers should be evaluated jointly by students and mentors, about twice a year. She also sees value in having online instructors set their own achievement goals and be held accountable for working toward them, in conjunction with completing self-evaluations on an annual basis.
Regarding accountability for mentors of online learners, Rebecca indicates that she and other mentors are held accountable by the central office, as well as the counseling department, through the metric of course completion rates. However, there are not more specific areas or job expectations that are outlined for mentors to guide them in their profession. Rebecca would like to have a more robust job description, including those guidelines and expectations, and regular job performance meetings with administration to discuss areas of strength and areas for improvement. She also feels that a state-sanctioned certification for online mentoring would be helpful, provided that mentors could receive consistent and explicit training on the duties and expectations of a mentor.
More generally, Rebecca would like to see graduation rates for students in online programs factored into accountability processes. She also notes that more transparency about how schools and districts are handling online learning would be beneficial for the field at large.